Michigan's controversial pick play vs. Illinois caused Illini coach Bret Beliema to call out Big Ten officiating.
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Michigan's Controversial Pick Play vs. Illinois Has Fans Theorizing a Big Ten Conspiracy

The Big Ten football season has been a lead up to Ohio State and Michigan squaring off in "The Game."

Last year, the Wolverines took down the Buckeyes for the first time in a decade, ruining their rival's chances at a conference championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff.

This season, the stakes are just as high. However, if one team entered the heated rivalry with any number other than a zero in the loss column, it would effectively lose its luster.

OSU has had a couple of close calls, but they ended up winning each of their games decisively. Michigan was in a similar boat until late in the fourth quarter against Illinois this past weekend. The Illini held a 17-16 lead with under a minute left in the game. The Wolverines needed to convert a fourth-and-3 to stay alive.

UM made it, but it wasn't without controversy.

Michigan's No Call "Pick Play" Enraged Bret Bielema

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Facing a game-deciding fourth-and-3 on Illinois' 45-yard line, Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy threw a short out route to running back Cornelius Johnson. Johnson was able to move the sticks with an 8-yard gain because no Illinois defender was in his vicinity.

The controversy is why no Illini defender was near Johnson. If you look closely, Michigan tight end Colston Loveland, who was lined up inside of Johnson, went to block Illinois defensive back Kendall Smith immediately out of his stance — thus, tangling up Smith and his teammate Sydney Brown and freeing Johnson on the outside. Johnson, of course, gained the first down, but the way he got open caused the controversy.

You see, Loveland's block could've been flagged for offensive pass interference because he "picked" Smith. Now, what is a pick in football? Essentially, it's when an offensive player intentionally makes contact with an opponent slowing him down and freeing his teammate for an open pass.

Yeah ... Loveland did pretty much exactly that, but no flags were thrown. However, on the very next play, Illinois was called for questionable pass interference.

The Wolverines would kick a 35-yard field goal four plays later to win the game 19-17.

Illinois head coach Bret Bielema was furious after the game.

"I'm extremely pissed off," he said. "Very angry, very upset. Think our kids did a lot to win the football game and to continually have things go against us, very frustrating. You have to stand up for the people you believe in. I believe in that locker room big time. I know they'll rise up to the challenge once again.

"Very frustrated. I think I always look forward to film on Sundays as a coach. But I keep getting answers I don't love and it doesn't help us during the course of the week. We hopefully will play a cleaner game. Some penalties have really hurt us in the last three ball games. We have to correct that internally if we're doing something illegally then we gotta correct that. Very, very frustrated with the ending of that football game."

Bielema then took to Twitter to further voice his frustrations.

Bielema wasn't the only one frustrated. Several fans theorize the officiating crew bailed out Michigan so next week's game against Ohio State will still have CFP implications. Fewer eyeballs would certainly tune in if Michigan entered the game with a loss. And that, of course, means less money. Well, not anymore!

There may have been a different call on that fourth-and-3 had the game not been at the Big House in Ann Arbor. But was it going to be called with the Ohio State game looming next week? Fat chance.

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